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On Yemen IDP Camp Attacked, Zeid Speaks, Ban Silent, Inconvenient Reality

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, March 31, with video -- Amid continued airstrikes in Yemen, on March 30 came reports of an airstrike on an internally displaced persons camp in Haradh. Inner City Press immediately sought confirmation (and comment) from the UN, and then from the US State Department, transcript below.

 On March 31, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid issued a statement on Yemen including this:

'I am shocked by Mondayís airstrike against the Al-Mazraq camp for internally displaced people in Harad, in the north of Yemen,' Zeid said. There are different accounts as to how many people were killed in the airstrike, but UN human rights staff in Yemen have verified at least 19 fatalities, with at least 35 others injured including 11 children. This camp, home to some 4,000 people, was established by the UN in 2009 and recently received at least 300 new families displaced from Sa'da."

  Meanwhile UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was in Kuwait, talking about "a deeply moving video entitled 'Clouds over Sidra.'  It is an amazing virtual reality production of the starkness of life in the Zaíatari Refugee Camp through the eyes of a beautiful young girl by the name of Sidra."

  Ban speaks on this virtual reality - but remains silent on the inconvenient reality of the airstrike on the real IDP camp in Haradh in Yemen.

 From Monday's State Department transcript:

Inner City Press: about Yemen.  Thereís this report of an IDP camp in northern Yemen called Haradh that was hit, and MSF said that several dozen people were killed by an airstrike.  And I wanted Ė last week, Jeff Rathke said that the U.S. couldnít corroborate casualties.  But does the U.S. have anything to say about the way in which the campaign is being waged and safeguards that should be in place?  And do you Ė is there any Ė do you see the situation moving closer toward resuming dialogue between Houthis and Hadi, or further away?

MS. HARF:  Well, thatís certainly the goal, right, to get on a path back to political dialogue.  So even through the military action that weíre supporting, that is the goal.  I think itís a challenge at the moment given the Houthisí actions, quite frankly, but weíre trying.

I just saw the report before I got on the phone about the IDP camp, so let me look into that and see if thereís more we can share.  I just donít know the facts on it.  But in every conflict, weíve always been clear that all sides should avoid civilian casualties.  Thatís certainly Ė I mean, itís important for us.  Weíve called on all sides in conflicts, including here, to take feasible measures to minimize harm to civilians, so thatís obviously important to us.  But let me check on the specifics and see if we can anything back to you after the briefing.

  Later on March 30, a US State Department official made this response to Inner City Press, on background:

"We have seen the media reports regarding the attack on the Mazraq camp for internally displaced Yemenis, which reportedly left over 20 individuals dead. We cannot confirm details of the attack. We offer our condolences to the families of the victims. The loss of civilian life in any conflict is tragic.

"We call upon all sides in Yemen to comply with international humanitarian law, including the obligation to take all feasible measures to minimize harm to civilians."

  Inner City Press also asked the March president of the UN Security Council, Francois Delattre of France, about the Haradh IDP camp; he said it had not come up in the UN Security Council. Yet? Video here.

  At the March 30 UN noon briefing, Inner City Press asked UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq if the UN had any comment on civilian casualties in the Saudi-led offensive on Yemen, and if Ban Ki-moon raised the issue at the Arab League summit.

  Haq said Ban had raised it. But what has been said publicly by the UN? Haq said the UN pulled 100 international staffers out of the country on Saturday but still has 13 internationals and 700 local staff and partners there.

 Inner City Press asked Haq if any of these 713 were in the Haradh camp. This, Haq did not answer.

  It was UNHCR which answered first, via its Spokesperson for Asia, Babar Baloch:

"Dear Matthew: Sadly, the reports are correct. Our team on the ground confirms the attack on Al Mazraq area in Hajjah that took place around 11.30am local time with unconfirmed reports of 15 to 20 deaths and as many injured. There are two IDP camps in the area that host some 1100 displaced families. We are not able to confirm how the attack happened, but remain concerned for the safety and security of the displaced."

  In front of the UN Security Council on the morning of March 30, questions were asked of entering Ambassadors - nearly all about Boko Haram. Inner City Press asked a spokesperson about the airstrike on IDPs in Yemen but news seemed not to have reached the Security Council.  Later, a Council member's spokesperson said they've heard of it but do not for now anticipate any meeting. Why not?

An hour later, still silence from Ban Ki-moon and the UN Office of the Spokesperson.  Finally, four minutes before the day's noon briefing, this from UN Spokesperson's Office:

"OCHA in Yemen says that its local partners report that airstrikes hit one of the IDP camps and the surrounding area in Hajjah and that there are reports of civilian casualties.  The United Nations and partners are working to verify this information."

  At the highest levels, the UN system is in a sense "all - in" with the Saudi military coalition, quiet on the fact that it includes Sudan and on civilian casualties.

Back on March 27 in Washington Inner City Press asked State Department spokesperson Jeff Rathke if the US has been in contact with the UN's Jamal Benomar:

"On Yemen, has the U.S. had any contact with Jamal Benomar, the special advisor whoís supposed to be mediating?  And how do you think that the Ė whatís the process from bombing to getting the Houthis back to the table?  Is anyone actually reaching out to them?"

  Rathke said he didn't have such information in front of him. But later a State Department official told Inner City Press on background:

"We remain in regular contact with UN Special Advisor Jamal Benomar.  We understand that Benomar remains engaged with political representatives from all parties, including the Houthis.  While we have not had direct contact with the Houthis, we have passed messages to them.
 
"The path for political dialogue will come when the Houthis and former regime elements halt their destabilizing military actions and realize that the only viable path forward is through peaceful negotiations."

  On civilian casualties in Sana'a, Rathke said "weíve always been clear that in every conflict, all sides should avoid civilian casualties.  I donít Ė Iím not able to corroborate those reports that youíve mentioned, but clearly, we think itís important to act in a targeted way in any kind of military conflict." Here is Amnesty International's report.  This will be updated.

 Inner City Press also asked Rathke about the Maldives government threatening migrant workers with deportation for demonstrating about abusive conditions, and the 11 year sentence imposed on former defense minister Nazid. Rathke said he may revert with some comments. Here is the State Department's March 13 comment on the Maldives, here.

  And later the State Department issued a "Question Taken" about the Maldives, including press freedom, here.

 On March 26 Inner City Press asked Rathke if the US thinks former President Saleh could play any role going forward, and for its position on Sudan participating in the "Saudi coalition" the US supports.

  Rathke replied about the US Treasury Department sanctions imposed on Saleh on November 10, 2014, and reiterated previous US criticism. From the State Department transcript (video here from Minute 26:49)

QUESTION:  Matthew Russell Lee, Inner City Press.  I wanted to know what the U.S. thinks of the role of former President Saleh, and do you think that he has any role to play in the negotiations that are trying to be had?  And also, you said repeatedly that the U.S. supports Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners, and itís said that Sudan is one of the partners and that theyíve offered three air force planes.  And I wanted to know, would the U.S. support Sudanese participation in bombing Yemen?

MR. RATHKE:  So Iíll take the second one first.  We are aware that the Government of Sudan has announced that it is taking part in the actions organized by the Saudis.  Weíre not in a position to confirm the details of or the nature of their participation.  Again, this is a Saudi-organized and Saudi-led coalition, so I donít have more to say on that aspect.

You asked about former President Saleh.  And so we have long made clear our concerns about the obstructive role that former President Saleh plays in Yemen.  He has consistently sought to undermine Yemenís political transition.  This is widely recognized by the international community, which, in fact, sanctioned former President Saleh under UN Security Council Resolution 2140 just a few months ago.  That was in November 2014.  And the reason was for his obstruction of the political transition and undermining the government.

The U.S. Treasury Department has sanctioned former President Saleh on November 10th, 2014 for engaging in acts that directly or indirectly threaten the peace, security, and stability of Yemen.  So our position on him and his role, I think, is quite clear.

  On Inner City Press' question on Sudan, note this is the same Sudanese air force bombing civilians in Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

   Inner City Press also asked Rathke about the US restricting Cuban diplomats to within 25 miles of Columbus Circle in New York -- Rathke said this is being negotiated, along with the US' desire for free movement in Cuba -- and if the US will be replacing Russ Feingold as Special Envoy on the Great Lakes.

  I have no personnel announcements, Rathke said, twice.

  Earlier in the day reporters complained about the lack of answers from the International Monetary Fund. Rathke at least kept fielding questions, and had a surprising number of if-asked statements in his binder.

   Inner City Press at the International Monetary Fund briefing on March 26 asked again about the status of the IMF program in Yemen.  From the IMF transcript:

Inner City Press: I wanted to ask you about Yemen. I asked online actually a couple of times ago, and you had said it wasnít helpful but there would be a review in the spring. Now, with these air strikes by Saudi Arabia and Houthiís moving on Aden, what is the status of the IMFís program, and what is the thinking, how are you going to review it?

MR. MURRAY: Thanks for that question. Well, obviously, we are watching the rapidly evolving situation in Yemen carefully and closely at the moment. Given a host of uncertainties surrounding Yemen at this moment, the first review under the Fund supported program is postponed until the situation clarifies.

When it will clarify? Canít say. Certainly, the review mission is postponed. One of our biggest concerns about Yemen is the impact on the poorest there, and the economic reverberations of events. Way too soon to say what those will be, but we are just going to have to keep an eye on the situation.

Inner City Press: Has the IMF had any kind contact with the Houthiís since they have been in contact --

MR. MURRAY: Iím not aware of any recent contact with the Houthiís, certainly not in recent days. I really donít have any recent guidance on that.

   Back on January 22, Murray had answered Inner City Press that while events in Yemen were not helpful, the review was not until Spring. Now it is postponed indefinitely.

  Inner City Press also asked Murray to confirm that the IMF may declined to proceed with Haiti if it continues to subsidize electricity. Murray said he would get an answer to the question and that it would be circulated and inserted into the transcript. Watch this site.

Three days after the UN Security Council convened on Yemen for a rare Sunday meeting on March 22 and issued only a Presidential Statement against outside interference, Saudi Arabia began airstrikes against the Houthis inside Yemen, citing Article 51 of the UN Charter.

   At the US State Department briefing on March 25, outgoing spokesperson Jen Psaki would only confirm that Hadi left his residence -- "voluntarily" -- while at the UN in New York Ban Ki-moon's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq cautioned against increased militarization in Yemen.

  Will the UN Secretariat criticize Saudi Arabia now?

 On March 24, Hadi wrote again to the Council and asked for "the Security Council to issue a binding resolution under Chapter VII inviting all willing countries who wish to to provide immediate support;" he also cited al-Qaeda and Daesh.

  This is not the way Iraq did it.

On March 23 the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia seemed to express this willingness. (On March 24, Saudi Arabia spoke in the UN Budget Committee to say same sex relationship are "morally unacceptable;" Yemen, perhaps because of the pending request, did not vote.)

   Inner City Press on March 23 asked the UN's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq:

Inner City Press: there have been two statements I wanted to ask if there's any response to.  One is by the new Foreign Minister of Yemen calling for a no-fly zone, making this request presumably to the Arab League, and also from the Foreign Minister from Saudi Arabia saying they'll take whatever necessary measures to curb Houthi advance.  So Iím just wondering, Jamal Benomar said there is no military solution and there should be talks, but is there any response by the UN to these two statements? 

Deputy Spokesman Haq:  Well, in general, like I said at the start of this briefing, Mr. Benomar did urge all sides in this time of rising tensions and inflammatory rhetoric to appreciate the gravity of the situation and de-escalate by exercising maximum restraint, ceasing all hostilities and refraining from provocation and using violence to achieve political goals.  And that remains our standpoint as a whole. Regarding a request to the League of Arab States, of course, that will be for them to consider

  Call it deferring. 

  After the two-hour closed door meeting of the Security Council, during which Permanent Five members' Permanent Representatives drifted away one by one, no one came out to the UN Television stakeout to speak on the record and apparently little new was said behind closed doors.

  Hours after the UN Security Council scheduled the emergency meeting on Yemen, the US announced:

"Due to the deteriorating security situation in Yemen, the U.S. Government has temporarily relocated its remaining personnel out of Yemen.  We have informed President Hadi of this step as part of our close coordination with the Yemeni government.  We will continue to engage the Yemeni people and the international community to strongly support Yemenís political transition.  We also continue to actively monitor terrorist threats emanating from Yemen and have capabilities postured in the area to address them.  As we have in the past, we will take action to disrupt continuing, imminent threats to the United States and our citizens.

"There is no military solution to Yemenís current crisis.  We urge the immediate cessation of all unilateral and offensive military actions.  We join all of the other members of the Security Council in underscoring that President Hadi is the legitimate authority in Yemen and re-emphasize our support for his efforts to lead Yemen through crisis.  We call upon the Houthis, former President Ali Abdallah Salih, and their allies to stop their violent incitement that threatens President Hadi, Yemeni government officials, and innocent civilians.

"We encourage all Yemeni factions to constructively engage in the UN-led political dialogue to achieve an inclusive power sharing agreement.  No unilateral assertion of authority will succeed in Yemen.  We urge a renewed commitment to a peaceful political transition consistent with the Gulf Cooperation Council Initiative, the National Dialogue Conference outcomes, and relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions.

"We are concerned that the well-being of all Yemenis now stands threatened by increasing instability, with extremists trying to capitalize on growing volatility as witnessed in the unconscionable March 20 attacks that killed over 130 Yemeni men, women, and children.  Progress in the political transition process offers Yemen the best hope to address these grave threats.  The United States remains committed to supporting all Yemenis in this endeavor and to aiding those who continue to strive for a peaceful, prosperous, and unified Yemen."

  Five weeks after the last Yemen resolution of the UN Security Council was adopted on Sunday, February 15, now on Sunday March 22 the Council held another emergency meeting on Yemen. Much has changed, most recently airstrikes on Hadi's headquarters in Aden and more deadly bombing of largely Houthi mosques in Sana'a.

  With less than 24 hours notice on March 21 the new emergency Security Council meeting was reported by the UN Spokesperson, Inner City Press, Lithuania, Jordan which requested the meeting, and France the Council's president for March.

  It was said Hadi requested the meeting; some speculated he wants the "Houthi coup" language that was dropped from the February 15 resolution revived. But with the Houthis themselves targeted, how would this play? And if a first round of sanctions didn't stop these developments, would a second round?

Update: Sources tell Inner City Press that UN envoy Jamal Benomar abruptly left Yemen, and that Hadi's goal is to get (more) UN Security Council authorization for military action against the Houthis "and Saleh." But he could already claim to be authorized for that. A Presidential Statement doesn't mean victory on the ground, though...

Update II: a question, of course, is how all this UN Security Council action relates to its P5+1 talks with Iran on the nuclear file. Seems the draft PRST would call on "all member States to refrain from external interference which seeks to foment conflict and instability and instead to support the political transition." ALL member states? Including Saudi Arabia and Qatar? Or only Iran?

  On a cold Sunday in New York, the UN Security Council scheduled a 5 pm vote on a resolution on Yemen. Diplomats rushed in. The Gulf Cooperation Council had submitted a draft with the word "Houthi coup" in it, but the phrase did not survive.

  After the watered down resolution was adopted 15-0, Inner City Press asked Saudi Arabia's Permanent Representative about the threat of new sanctions, given how little previous sanctions on Ali Saleh and two Houthi leaders accomplished - and, does he think the Houthis are working with Saleh? (Video here and embedded below.)

  He replied that both are spoilers, they could work together directly or indirectly. The Gulf Cooperation Council will be continuing to push the Security Council, for example on the house arrest of Hadi and others.

  Jordan's Permanent Representative added that come members did not want the word coup.

 Inner City Press notes that while Hadi consented to US drone strikes, a coup would leave such consent "up in the air."

 After the diplomats left, two different Arabic language channels described what had occurred in entirely different terms: one as a "strong message," the other as "weak."  And so it goes.


 

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